Regardless, despite the short length this card looks like it could really deliver. Molly and Victoria have always worked well together, Jericho's usually at his best when working with a guy who's much larger or much smaller than he is, Matt and Kane could be a surprise, they're keeping Eugene interesting alongside Flair, Orton and Edge won't be terrible and the World Title match should be stellar. On paper, this absolutely blows away Smackdown's paltry Great American Bash card, which is really a pretty accurate representation of the performance of these shows over the last three months. A lot of these could go either way, and we could conceivably see either no title changes or three title changes without causing too much of a stretch. That's a good sign you're building up both the competitors and the champions correctly, establishing credibility in your belts without totally alienating them from the rest of the card.
Victoria vs. Molly Holly
Like I said, these two have always worked rather well together, so there's no question they'll deliver the goods this time around. Their big title match at WrestleMania didn't get as much time as I'd hoped and was really bogged down by the gimmick of Molly potentially shaving her head, so putting them back together on a card of this size was a good call. Of course, there's always the chance that the match will focus on Molly's recycled wig gimmick, but I'm hoping they'll have realized that the train has already left the station on that one. I liked the little flickers of life they gave her character a month or so ago, when she quit being ashamed of her short hair and took violent personal offense to any opponent who jokingly tore it off, but it wasn't long before that angle was forgotten and she'd stepped backwards into the same, "I won't let anyone see my hair" angle again. So long as they resist the urge to fill the ring with crappy contenders for the women's title (I'm thinking of Stacey and possibly Gail when I say this) and let these two run to a clean non-gimmicked finish, I'll be happy. I'm assuming this is for number one contendership to Trish's women's title somewhere down the line, so the rest should write itself.
La Resistance (C) vs. Ric Flair & Eugene
World Tag Team Championship
Flair and Eugene have been absolute gold together lately, though I have to admit the Nature Boy's to thank for a lot of it. The stylin', profilin' one has been on a tear of late with his body language, his facial expressions and his depth of character, and his reactions to those various encounters with Eugene over the last couple weeks have more to do with the character's success than, perhaps, Nick Dinsmore himself. I can't wait to see how that carries over to their teaming together Sunday night.
With that said, there's no way in HELL they should be winning the tag titles from La Resistance right now. The tag division is only now beginning to recover from the long string of makeshift champions that had dominated the division since before WrestleMania and the breakup of almost every tag combination at the Draft Lottery. Resistance is beginning to re-establish themselves as able champions, cleanly defending their titles on two separate occasions on RAW and beginning what looks to be an interesting story with Rhyno. If a couple new faces are called up from and teamed on a regular basis and a few new permanent teams are sculpted out of the existing players on RAW, the division stands to make a healthy turnaround some time in the near future. Putting the belts on Flair and Eugene would make for an interesting segment or two, but would erase all the work Conway and Grenier have done thus far. I like the continuity of putting Eugene back in there with the first guy who really took issue with him, but I think it's about time Eric's special nephew picks up his first loss.
Winners: La Resistance
Chris Jericho vs. Batista
I'm actually expecting this to be surprisingly good. Jericho's been extremely solid for well over a year running, despite a noticeable lack of decent storylines and an attempted de-emphasis on the roster. Batista, meanwhile, has shown steady improvement working alongside Orton, Flair and Hunter in Evolution. Thus far he's been much more effective in tag matches than as a single, but now's as good a time as any to overcome that hurdle. It's been a fun ride watching him develop from an extremely green, boring big man to a surprisingly well-spoken, increasingly effective monster heel over the last six months, and I think Jericho's the right man to help him finish that transition. I've got my doubts that this feud will end here, as it seems a lot more likely for Summerslam, and a decisive Jericho victory wouldn't be doing anyone any favors here. They did a great job of stressing the impact of Y2J's worked concussion during the rematch the next week on RAW, and I'd be surprised if they don't carry that story over to this Sunday's singles match between the two. If Batista's ever going to have a shot at breaking through on his own, it's going to be Sunday night. I've got him going over in convincing fashion, leading to a full blown feud going into Summerslam.
Kane vs. Matt Hardy
No Disqualification Match
As I said in this week's RAW Review, this could either be really good or really bad. Nobody with a cell left in their brain is going to buy Matt Hardy as a straight up challenge to Kane, even after all the jobbing the big red machine's been doing over the last twelve months, so their best bet is to use him as a madman, seeking vengeance (HA) in imaginative ways with a weapon. If they can convince us he's really got nothing left to lose and is in a completely different mindset than Kane, the match will benefit undoubtedly because of it. If they set them up side by side and let them start swinging with the wild punches and cookie sheets, fans will notice the two foot size difference between the two, roll their eyes and make a break for the restrooms. The storyline calls for emotion and fire, the match needs something different to make it enticing to viewers, and god knows both these guys need the exposure of a good match on a big card, Hardy perhaps moreso than Kane. I've got Matt pulling out the surprise win, enraging Kane as a result and eventually paying the price somewhere down the line.
Winner: Matt Hardy
Randy Orton (C) vs. Edge
It's a mixed bag with these two. On one hand, their work together in various tag matches has been nothing short of outstanding. Edge remains a very solid tag team worker and Orton is beginning to really grasp the concept behind his teaming with Batista, handling most of the wear and tear himself and tagging in the monster when it's time for a big move or a finishing sequence. I could watch Jericho or Benoit and Edge take on Batista or Flair and Orton from now until the end of time. The teams just click, both with their partners and with their opponents, and the end result is a string of matches that are totally different from one another, despite the identical ingredients, each one every bit as good as the last. On the other hand, neither Orton nor Edge are what I'd call accomplished, possibly even reliable, singles stars. It's obvious that the "powers that be" (to steal a phrase) were all about getting Edge into the main event as soon as possible upon his return to RAW, but for whatever reason he just hasn't been up to the challenge. His character's lost a step, both inside and outside the ring, and audiences aren't getting into his current run. He feels forced, like he's only saying things because they'll make him look more "main event," and that's not a good way to crack the top of the card.
Orton, too, has been somewhat unreliable on his own. While he's much more than carryable when opposed by an established face, who can fill him in on the lay of the land and alter the plans if the audience doesn't respond as they're expecting them to, he's not quite to the point where I'd feel comfortable watching him call a match from start to finish. The first meeting between Edge and Orton, on RAW about a month back, left a lot to be desired. There were some flickers of potential shining through, and I thought for a while they might pull out a decent match after all, but when the dust settled it was just disappointing as a whole. There's still a good chance they'll take the added momentum of a high slot on a big card and use it appropriately to propel the match, so don't think I'm poo-pooing this before it's even happened, but I'm having trouble remaining optimistic. Here's hoping they give me a reason to get excited about their next collision when they meet this Sunday. I've got Orton retaining, because that title is an integral part of his character right now. It wouldn't help Edge nearly as much as it would hurt Randy.
Winner: Randy Orton
Chris Benoit (C) vs. Triple H
World Heavyweight Championship
I honestly can't wait to see this one. Benoit hasn't slowed down since winning the title, although he's been in some hairy situations, and Trips has been a completely different man since dropping the gold at WrestleMania. His character did an about-face and has been extremely entertaining on the mic (both as the oppressive leader of Evolution and as the double-faced liar, manipulating Eugene for his own gains) and markedly improved in the ring (opposite Benjamin, Tajiri and Michaels, respectively). Likewise, Benoit has led the way for RAW, involving himself in about two thirds of the show's outstanding string of main events since WMXX while constantly improving by leaps and bounds, both as a character and on the stick. Though their interactions have been limited due to the various storylines both are involved with, this still feels like a clash of the titans, a match worthy of the World Heavyweight Championship it's deciding. Either guy could conceivably step away as champion without completely catching me by surprise, and I wouldn't wish for it any other way.
These two haven't had many singles matches. In fact, the only ones that I can recall off hand are the first match Benoit had after jumping to the WWF (on the very same, fateful Smackdown that Eddie Guerrero dislocated his elbow) and a tremendous, yet oft-overlooked match from No Mercy 2000, both of which saw Hunter emerge victorious (and good lord, we've been doing these previews for a long time). I've read good things about the house show matches these two have been having since April, and I can't help but believe them judging by the excellent work they've done together in multiple-participant matches and on their own. As for a winner, I'm gonna go against the grain and pick Benoit. Hunter isn't focused, and I think this Eugene thing's going to bite him in the ass. I'll concede that he's likely to regain the title by Summerslam, but I don't think Vengeance is the place he's going to get it done.
Winner: Chris Benoit
Like I said in the introduction, this looks like and all around solid card. There's a few opportunities for something to suck, but there's more than enough good potential to make up for the chance misstep and then some. If Hardy / Kane and Edge / Orton can surprise me, there's a good chance this card will be very good to great from head to toe, perhaps even better than RAW's last PPV, Bad Blood. I'm eager to see how several of these matches turn out, and I'm excited to take in the aftermath this Monday on RAW. Big thumbs up from me, let's hope RAW's hot streak continues.
until next time, i remain